Traveling by Train in Romania: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

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As regular readers know, I am a fan of traveling by train and I probably use the Romainian rail lines several times a year to get to my destination, usually on the route Timisoara – Bucharest (and back). Even better, I have traveled by train in other European countries, so I can really compare the services offered in Romania to those usually considered better in Europe. So if you are planning to travel by train in Romania – or you have to, I am here to give you the good, the bad and the ugly.

What I like about traveling by Train in Romania

– First, it’s the thing I like about traveling by train anywhere: you get more room to stretch your bones, you can get up and walk and generally feel better than you would if you were to take a car or bus to your destination. Even better, the carts are not usually packed, so you have your room to breathe and you can even change seats if you want to.

– Trains in Romania are cheap and usually cheaper than taking a car. First class is really cheap too and I would recommend anybody to take first class instead of second (for the 5 hours long ride that I’m usually on, the difference between 2nd and 1st class is about 7 Euros and for that you get better air con, better chairs and overall better comfort). Have in mind, though, that first class in Romanian trains is nowhere near luxury and some older first class carts are now used as second class on some trains.

– Unless you’re taking Regio trains (slow and old), they usually have at least decent air conditioning and especially great heating so you should have a comfortable ride.

– There are quite a few power outlets available in the carts, so you can watch a movie on your laptop or play games on your smartphone without having to worry about your battery dying on you.

– Even though the overall speed of the trains is slower than what you’d like and some rides take a loooong time (since Romania is a pretty large country too), the connections are usually good and you can get to any interesting destination in Romania by train. In other words, you can easily travel and explore even if you don’t own a car!

– New private companies are starting to offer even better prices, modern trains and overall better value (perfect air con, cleanliness, free wi fi and so on), even though at the moment their destinations are limited. Look for Softrans and Regiotrans.

The nice looking Hyperion train from Softrans
The nice looking Hyperion train from Softrans

What I don’t like about traveling by train in Romania

– The trains and carriages are in a pretty poor condition: expect them to be pretty dirty and expect stuff not to work properly – like the electrical doors, the water faucet in the toilets and so on. And yes, sometimes the toilets are a nightmare!

– They rarely get there on time. There are horror moments when trains that travel on very long distances can get delays of 90 minutes and sometimes more. And even other trains use to get to their destination at least a few minutes late. The train that I am constantly on, for example, has is usually 20 minutes late (from Drobeta Turnu Severin to Bucharest or vice-versa).

– Sometimes, air conditioning won’t work – or won’t be able to keep up with the weather. I never had problems with the heating during the winter, but very hot summer days can prove to be a problem to the probably old air conditioning systems in Romanian trains.

– I haven’t seen a working restaurant/bar in a Romanian train for quite some time now. The best you can expect is for a guy to hop in with overpriced snacks and drinks, carrying them in a huge basket (usually traveling just between two, usually close-by destination then hopping off). However, there are a few trains that come equipped with a restaurant/bar wagon so with a bit of research (or luck) you can get one!

The Ugly about traveling by train in Romania

This is how a 2nd class carriage usually looks like
This is how a 2nd class carriage usually looks like

Sometimes, things can get really ugly when you’re traveling by train in Romania. This happened a couple of days ago to me during a short return trip to Craiova: I took an early morning train to the destination, one that left the Drobeta train station at 6 AM. I was shocked to find out that the lights were not working anywhere in the train and neither did the heating: so the conductor was sporting a cool flashlight to check out the tickets, while her teeth were chattering because, you see, the weather is pretty cold now in Romania, especially over the night. It was insane – and it never happened to me, nor I heard it happen before. Still, I was there and it happened and rode in the dark for almost an hour until the sun came up.

It was a cursed return trip, apparently, because the train that took me back home was packed. They were probably not expecting as many passengers as they had on this particular occasion, so the train only had 3 carriages – which were not enough to offer seating to everybody there. So I had to – just like tens of other people – stand for the entire duration of the journey. The fact that all carriages were packed also meant that the air con was not working properly, so it was insanely hot and the air was sultry. Overall, it was a nightmare. So things, if you are terribly unlucky, can get really ugly when it comes to riding a train in Romania.

Now here is an useful link for you: Infofer (the English version). Here you can find information about CFR trains (it doesn’t show departures and info about private company trains), as well as use the “My Train” link on the left hand side of the page to check out live stats (usually see how late they are) of your train. Just enter the number of the train and you’ll get the info. Really useful, especially since you’re in a foreign country!

Despite the cons and even despite the ugly, I am still using the train to travel in Romania and you can give it a try as well, if you have a chance. Most likely, your experience won’t be unpleasant as my “Ugly” one.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Calin: I’ve always been a fan of trains! Are reservations required, or do most people just assume there’s space and buy tickets at the station?
    Are most of the trains electric, or diesel? Are the engines European or Soviet built? (The Soviets make fine engines, too.) Does the main railroad company have a government subsidy (like the AMTRAK in the USA)? Are the privately owned lines which compete with the “state owned” more popular and more expensive? (The Hyperion looks similar to the German ICE.) Are there any plans for high speed rail like the German ICE or the French TGV trains? Are the tracks well maintained, or are they in need of maintenance? Do most people prefer rail to say bus, or air? Would most people pay an extra tax specifically to improve and modernize the railroad? Does the Romanian railroad have any connection with Eurorail? I’ll check out the link–I just didn’t want to do it as I was typing this because my questions disappear;-(
    Did you ever find out why the train on the “cursed return trip” was so packed? Maybe a football match?
    It’s surprising the lack of a dining car or snack bar on longer distance trains. That’s usually a money maker. Do most people just pack a meal or two, not expecting any other meal options?
    What is the safety record? Have there been any fatal accidents within the last five or so years? What is the highest speed service line?
    I am sorry to bog you down with so many questions and to be so willy nilly!
    Do you have any more pictures of say, 1st class accommodations? Are there sleeper cars for the cross country trains? Okay, I’ll let you go, now;-)
    Thanks for this article!
    ~Teil (USA)

    • Wow, I think these are the most questions I’ve got from you, Teil! I didn’t know you like trains too – so let’s answer the questions:

      1. Reservations are required, but most people get their tickets at the station. You can purchase them in the train too, but at a higher rate.

      2. The trains are electric, but I have no idea about the Engines. I’d guess European (some certainly made in Romania). There is no government subsidy that I know of.

      3. The private lines (it’s actually trains, as they all use the same railroads) are gaining popularity and are, actually, cheaper than the state owned.

      4. We have some high(er) speed trains called Sageata Albastra (Blue Arrow) which operate on some short distances, but I don’t think there are any plans for improving the tracks soon. They are in a decent condition, but they could really use some modernization. Because they are not in the best possible condition, there are speed limits set on tracks and this is the main reason why our trains are so slow.

      5. Air travel in the country is not at all common, mostly do the humongous prices. I don’t really know what people prefer best between train and bus – I’d say that they’re pretty much at the same levels.

      6. There was no football match and no real reason why the train was so packed. I believe the real reason was the number of carts (that train usually has 5-6, now it only had 3).

      7. Most people prefer to pack a meal or have some snacks, but when the dining cars were in all trains they were always packed, so I really don’t understand why this happens.

      8. On the top of my head, I’d say that there were no fatal accidents recently. I know there was one accident last year on the line to Timisoara, but there were no casualties. I’d say that they are pretty safe on this matter.

      9. There are sleeper cars, but I have personally never traveled with any. I heard, though, that they are pretty decent and you have all the range: from 2 to 4 and 6 beds. 1st class carriages are similar to 2nd class one, but they have 3 chairs on a row instead of 4 and usually they all have some sort of table. You can check out this google image search: https://www.google.com/search?q=clasa+1+cfr&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAWoVChMIpMC53en6xwIVQVoUCh0jBwCM&biw=1920&bih=943 – a few of the images there are of 1st class carriages (those that have 3 chairs on a row)

      Let me know if there’s something else!

  2. I too liked traveling by train in Romania. Traveling second class gets you much more contact with real Romanians who are on a budget. I have only had a few bad experiences with trains late at night when there were drunks staggering down the aisle or screaming out loud. In general, people were curious and talkative (and very generous with their snacks). The people in the first class tended to be aloof. One unpleasant first class trip forced me to listen to some ex-communist now-businessman go on about how the wonderful Romanian chemical industry was bought up by outsiders and shut down. In answer to Mr. Jorgenson, I know that Romania itself made some good diesel and electric locomotives. East Germany used to use the Romanian diesel locomotive on its non-electric routes. As a historical aside, right after the communist takeover of Romania and the establishment of the economic area COMECON, the Soviet Union tried to force Romania into a more agricultural economic role. If I understood correctly, Gheorghiu-Dej was able to thwart these plans and Romania developed its industry independently. I am amazed how Romania stood up to the Russians while the Russians were stomping on uprisings in East Germany and Hungary. Well, I’m off topic again, sorry. The one unhappy aspect of riding Romanian trains is having to look at all the trash thrown next to and on the tracks.

    • Many Romanians would have similar opinions to those of the guy you met in first class, although it’s even more who claim that it’s our leaders who are to blame. And it’s true – the trash on the sides is still there, unfortunately.

  3. Your description of the packed train reminded me of our a Brussels to Ghent trip! We literally got the last 2 seats in the car, and not together. It was so full, people were on the stairs, floor,standing etc. we had to listen to drunk twenty something women with painted faces singing and screaming the whole way. Never seen anything like it….the conductors did not bother coming around to check tickets of course, they couldn’t move if they wanted to. Tourist season l guess will do that..thank god our trip was only 35 minutes and that our return journey on a weekday was empty. I think though, that l would spring for first class tickets if the difference was that small 🙂 . For sure l would have hated to ride in the dark..

    • The two trains didn’t have first class carriages, which is again something that should’ve been probably mentioned as a strange thing for Romanian trains: some are second class only. And in this case, there were no tourists and no touristic destination. At least, thank God, there were no drunken noisy people: that would’ve been fun :))

  4. When I was backpacking through Europe (unfortunately I did get the chance to see Romania), I used the train to travel from country to country. I enjoyed taking the train because I found it relaxing and a great way to check out the scenery. I live in Canada and the trains aren’t the greatest here either. The train used to travel across the country and/or province I find is quite slow, the food they offer is also overpriced (I would always bring my own food, when I was travelling across the province) and doesn’t always arrive on time. It’s also the same with the train used by people commuting to and from work. It still is way better than driving through rush hour traffic which is quite horrible in the city where my work is located.

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